Chittagong with its unique advantages in terms of geographically strategic location, a sea port having a rich history, Karnaphuli river without upper riparian issues and being at the centre of a 25 billion dollar worth regional economy, has four connectivity potentials.
The potentials, according to Hussain Zillur Rahman, former Advisor of the Caretaker Government) are a) gateway to landlocked southern Asia (northeast India, southern China, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar), b) bridge between ASEAN and SARCC, c) general boost to maritime trade through lowering of cost and time and d) boost to intra-regional trade in South Asia which currently accounts for 5 per cent compared to 26 per cent in ASEAN.
There is yet another good tiding as a recent study reveals that Chittagong is among the world's 30 potential cities in respect of the growth of production, thanks to the seaport.
Chittagong Port is a key economic player that handles above 80 per cent of the current national export and import and provides 25 per cent of the government revenues. In spite of the remarkable technical improvements including handling time and automation the port is severely suffering from governance setbacks.
Experts and businesses have long been demanding improved governance of Chittagong Port Authority and urging the high-ups to leave full autonomy with the CPA regarding development policies and their implementation. There are allegations of increased corruption in dealing with the tender process for selection of cargo handling operators from private bidders as well.
The port, in the past, had problems of congestion of ships and containers, piracy in the outer anchorage, labour unrest inside the port, deliberate delaying in handling cargo and containers, stakeholders' unnecessary expenditure and harassment on different excuses that severely dented the image of the port in the global maritime shipping area. But most of these problems are no more with the port.
Communication of the seaport with the capital city Dhaka suffers from setback as the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway is yet to be improved to the 4-lane highway due to slow move in implementation of the already started project.
The Port Authority has apparently no immediate port expansion plan in the prospect of the port's future role as a regional connectivity hub although it has a huge land mass in the adjoining areas. A huge area of the port itself has been occupied by the residential quarters of its officers and employees and an Army Embarkation Unit. The port currently handles about 1.5 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) of container (around 50 millions tons in terms of volume) but the handling capacity could be around 2.5 million TEUs if the New Mooring Container Terminal with 1.0 million handling capacity could be fully operated. The authority is yet to finalise the NCT tender process as it has reportedly become victim of the vested group infighting for the last four years.
Professor Hussain Zillur said the potential of regional hub cannot be realized without complementary development of Chittagong as a global city. Chittagong is now the home to 40 per cent of the country's heavy industries, second hub of readymade garments (RMG), internationally competitive export processing zones (EPZ), a fast growing city with 5.0 million population and emerging shipbuilding, steel and tourism industry.
A JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) consultation team employed by the Board of Investment of the Government of Bangladesh prepared a survey report on investment potential and industrialization during 1994-95.
The report recommended that "Chittagong should be given priority consideration within the industrial development policy, taking into consideration its primary function as the national gateway having international port facilities and its inherited trade and industrial base functions.
"Industrial development in Chittagong should be properly integrated in the regional and urban development plans, aiming at developing the fast-track infrastructure as early as possible, whilst curtailing the public spending as much as possible.
"Bangladesh should promote herself as the newly industrialized economy, in an attempt to induce massive foreign direct investment (FDI), and probably sell her image together with the countries engulfed by the Bay of Bengal within the framework of SAARC or SAFTA, currently in debate."
As planned by Chittagong Development Authority the city is going to have within two years an immersed tunnel under the Karnaphuli River, CDA City Outer Ring Road, CDA Bahaddarhat Flyover, CDA Kadamtali Flyover and extension and renovation of at least six major roads.
Deep Sea Port: Construction work of the deep sea port in Sonadia will start in the current calendar year as it was announced by Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan during his visit to Cox'sBazar early March this year.
The government is looking for multinational investors of some countries to construct the deep sea port in phases. China, India, Japan and Germany, among others, have already expressed their desire to be part of the giant maritime infrastructure project that includes construction of port jetties, additional channels, export and import zones, communication system with other ports, roads, railways, power supply, transit area, gas connection etc.
Construction work of the first phase of the off-shore port is likely to be completed by 2015 at an estimated cost of Tk 150 billion. It would expand Bangladesh's trade with China, Myanmar, Nepal, India, Thailand, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Electricity and gas crisis in factories: Leaders of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry have said production has reduced to almost half the capacity as most of the factories in the region are facing severe gas and electricity shortage for the last four months.
Managing Director of Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Co Jameel Ahmed Aleem admitted that the industries and residential holdings are currently getting nearly 200 million cubic feet gas a day (mmcfd) against their demand of 370-380 mmcfd due to gas rationing. The authority has made it known to the steel millers vide a letter on September 6 as the gas has been diverted to fertilizer factories- CUFL and KAFCO.
The KGDCL in its letter advised the factories to suspend production for 12 hours a day from 6.00 pm to 6.00 am. Production in the steel manufacturing units in Chittagong fell drastically due to gas shortage.
CCCI President Murshed Murad Ibrahim alleged that Chittagong region used to get 220 mmcfd when the total national production was 1750 mmcfd two years back. But the gas production has now increased to 2250 mmcfd while the region is getting 180 to 190 mmcfd.
"Suspension of gas supply is affecting production severely which may create unrest in the factories as the mills might face closure and leave the workers jobless. It might hamper image of export-oriented factories globally," he said.
Industries are suffering due to power shortage as well. Production of electricity in the region's power plants has come down to 380 to 400 mega watt (MW) in the peak hour against the demand of 600 to 630 MW, Chittagong Chamber sources said.
Production in all three state-run gas-fired power plants in the region remains suspended whose total production capacity is 630 MW. The total production capacity of 10 power plants including the state-owned Raozan Thermal units 1 and 2, Kaptai Hydroelectric Station and Shikalbaha Power Plant is 1297 MW.
Other major sectors hampered severely by energy shortage are agriculture, real estate and construction. Real estate was one of the rapidly expanding sectors in the recent past but the pace of growth has slowed down and flat sales have fallen for lack of gas connection.
Energy security has emerged as one of the most formidable challenges facing the local businesses. This government right from the start has been prioritizing energy as a key sector and had set the objective of raising country's electricity supply to 5000 mega watt (MW) by 2011 and 7000 MW by 2013 and 15,000 MW by 2016.
The government has claimed that 3595 MW of newly generated power has been added to the national grid between January 2009 and September 2012 while the government has signed agreement with different companies to develop 59 power stations for generation of 7649 MW electricity.